Saturday, October 11, 2014

Itching and Scratching

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I’ve been tearing up all morning watching the news reports of Malala Yousafzai getting the Nobel Peace Prize, along with that wonderful Indian man, Kailash Satyarthi, who saved 75- or 80,000 children’s lives, if the news reports are accurate.  What a stroke of genius on the part of the six members of the Norwegian team to make the decision to split it between a Pakistani and an Indian.  To spit in the eye of the politicians running those countries and make plain what can be done, and is being done, by folk working in the trenches.

I hope you’ll forgive me for moving from the sublime to the ridiculous here, but I just couldn’t help juxtaposing this marvelous news with the (to me, at least) absurdist twist in the gender equality struggle in my part of the world that occupied my attention yesterday.

Malala wanted to be a doctor before fate laid out another plan for her.  If she had, she would have been restricted to treating only women.  Not that that wouldn't have been a wonderful thing - it would have made Pakistani women’s lives a whole lot better, no doubt.

It's just that here in the West, we aim a whole lot higher.

I think.

I remember the first time I took my pants down in front of a woman doctor.  It was time for a complete physical and when she got through thumping my chest and poking around in my eyes and ears, she told me to take my pants down so she could check my prostate.  I understand they don’t do that anymore, but this was then, and before I knew what was happening Frau Doktor Dickfinger had slipped on a blue plastic glove and was rummaging around in my basement looking for trouble.  I never had time to get embarrassed.  Not sure I would have been, actually.  She was a really cheerful grandmotherly German doctor, and the competence vibes were strong.

Yesterday I got another chance to demonstrate my sincerity in demanding that women should be able to do anything any man can do.  Ten years ago it was a female tiger in my tank.  Yesterday it was Gertrude (not her real name) staring at my family jewels.

I won’t go into more detail than necessary to tell the tale, but it had to do with itching in a place I knew I wasn’t supposed to scratch.  Not something one talks about at dinner.  Or lunch, or breakfast or tea.   I had phoned Dr. Hodenflicker in dermatology to try to get an appointment with that kindly old man I had gone to before, thinking he’d know what to do about the fact that the usual remedies simply weren’t working.   Kaiser, in its wisdom, insisted I go through my gatekeeper “personal physician” first.  She wasn’t in, but they substituted another lady.  And that meant I was going to have to do a repeat of putting my man parts in lady hands. 

Not a problem, right?   After all, women have been having male gynecologists raking their private parts for ages, so what’s the wuss, right?   Then why was I wondering at the fact that I didn’t have a problem with it?

In any case, Gertrude was as efficient as Frau Doktor Dickfinger had been, had a quick look-see and then actually phoned Dr. Hodenflicker (also not his real name) to come have a look – the man I had wanted to go to in the first place.

Henry Hodenflicker comes in with a Sherlock Holmes magnifying glass in his hand (no kidding), looks at the “affected area” and pronounces, “no fungus, just a normal itching that comes from sweating.  I’ll give you something to put on it and the problem should be gone in short order.”

Now this is good news.  It’s hell to itch where you’ve been told you’ve never supposed to scratch, at least in polite company.  But now I’m suddenly aware that I’ve had not one, but two medical professionals talking with me and each other about the fact that I’ve just made a doctor’s appointment over nothing more than an itch.  I feel I’ve taken the time of two people with maybe six years of medical school and decades of experience treating serious illnesses, over something no more consequential than a friggin hangnail.  I thanked them profusely and tried to slink away inconspicuously.   Did he really have to go on and on about how “we men” have to contend with such things, yada yada, clean, yada yada, dry, yada yada yada yada.  And Gertrude, did she have to type down every last word he said, "best to sleep in the nude,"  and enter it into my permanent record?  Which now, thanks to NSA’s cooperative efforts with the phone companies, is public information for all the world to see?

As coincidence would have it, I tuned in later in the day to a German talk show, and there was Germany’s Environmental Minister, Barbara Hendricks, calling former head of the Free German Party Martin Lindner “the biggest ball scratcher in parliament.”  [actual quote available here.]

She said what?

Sometimes I love the world of politics.   Discussing this outburst on the talk show, and making the point that women get away with murder these days, Lindner comments, “If a man had said something equivalent about a woman, he would have been not only kicked out of parliament, he would have been kicked out of the country.”  To which another member of the talkshow panel, Jutta Ditfurth, one of the founders of the liberal Green Party (and, one assumes, more in tune with Barbara Hendrick's Socialist Party)  responded something like, “You guys are just finally getting a taste of your own medicine,” leading me (and I’m sure lots of viewers) to wonder when we’re going to reach the level of power equality between the sexes when this “ballscratcher” comment will be taken as unacceptable, rather than as payback.

In Malala’s part of the world, girls are struggling to go to school and dreaming of one day becoming a doctor.  In my part of the world, an openly gay liberation activist, lesbian and parliamentarian, Barbara Hendricks is telling a fellow parliamentarian he’s not only a ball scratcher but “the biggest” ball scratcher in parliament, leaving the clear implication there are others. 

I did some digging on these two characters.  They are both practicing Roman Catholics, even though she’s completely out as a lesbian and he is twice married.   (And what that says about the diminished power or the official church/increased power of the people's church in Germany is another story).  The animosity between them may be personal, but I assume it more likely stems from their party differences – she is a socialist, he’s from the FDP, known as the capitalist businessman's party (now grown too small to be in parliament anymore, by the way), and they have a history of bitter conflict.

But ball scratcher?  Where the hell did that come from? 

Maybe my hesitation to show and tell with Gertrude and Henry has some grounding in reality after all, despite all the advances in gender equality and years of confidence building on a personal level.

A linguistic note.  The German verb “kraulen” translates not only “crawl” (as in do the crawl stroke while swimming), but also scratch,  tickle, ruffle, finger, fondle or stroke, depending on the context.  You “kraul” (scratch) a dog between the ears; You “kraul” a cat (ruffle its fur);  you “kraul” (tickle) somebody’s chin or “kraul” (run your fingers through) somebody’s hair.  You can also “kraul” (finger) your own beard.

Germans use the word “eggs” (Eier) for “balls.”

So you tell me what Barbara Hendricks was after when she called Martin the biggest “Eierkrauler” in parliament.

And does this prove we are centuries ahead of the folks in Pakistan and the rest of the Muslim world?

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